Continued Controversy over Smartphone Encryptions

October 20, 2014
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With Edward Snowden’s revelations, the myriad of recent information breaches at large corporations, and the extraordinary level of digitalization in our country, the American public has never placed a higher value on cyber security. This heightened attention has manifested itself in recent actions by Apple and Google that have provided higher levels of encryption for smartphone data. CTOVision covered the story here.

This greater degree of privacy has contributed to a large controversy with the federal government, as law enforcement officials have expressed disapproval of the new encryption. Speaking at The Brookings Institution in Washington to discuss the relationship between technology and law enforcement, FBI director James Comey posed the question: “Have we become so mistrustful of government and law enforcement in particular that we are willing to let bad guys walk away, willing to leave victims in search of justice?” Director Comey identifies the new features as a marketing strategy targeting a perceived public demand – a marketing strategy with significant and detrimental consequences for national security.

Dissenters include Ken Gude, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, who recently published an opinion piece responding to the Brookings discussion. Available from, his “The FBI is Dead Wrong: Apple’s Encryption is Clearly in the Public Interest” clearly articulates that he disagrees with Director Comey over smartphone encryption. “This is absurd,” Mr. Gude writes, “The only actions that have undermined the rule of law are the government’s deceptive and secret mass surveillance programs.”

This sentiment is echoed in a recent article by The Washington Post, “FBI Director Calls on Congress to Stop Unlockable Encryption. Good Luck with That.” And the article is not an outlier, as many online articles express similar disagreement with the director.

The controversy reflects the ongoing tension between privacy and security, which has been exacerbated by events like Edward Snowden’s revelations and recent data breaches. Given the ubiquity of Android and iOS devices, the debate is far from over.